£25,145 - £36,295

The Ford S-MAX is arguably the best seven-seat MPV available on the market today. It's in its second generation now and Ford seems to have worked out precisely how to blend functionality with style. The S-MAX provides excellent space for families, yet gives little away in terms of practicality. The fact that it does all this while being an enjoyable car to drive is a credit to Ford's engineers. When compared to its rivals, the Ford S-MAX isn’t as large or as affordable as the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, but it's better to drive. It's also better looking than the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer and cheaper than the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer.

An MPV's success is determined by how good it is at transporting passengers and their luggage and by this definition, the Ford S-MAX is a winner. The front two rows of seats offer decent head and legroom for adults, while the third row – like those in most rivals – is best reserved for children. If you’re going to be regularly transporting adults in those seats you’d be better off looking at the larger and more expensive Ford Galaxy or SEAT Alhambra.

Like its rivals, the S-MAX offers a very versatile seating system: any one of the rear seats can be folded individually and with all five down, the load area is comparable to a mid-sized van's – albeit an extremely refined and comfortable one.

The S-MAX commands a slight price premium over its main rivals, but it makes up for this with generous standard equipment and a choice of impressive diesel and petrol engines.

The range kicks off with Zetec trim, which comes with front and rear parking sensors, Ford's SYNC touchscreen system including DAB digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity. There should be plenty of kit for most buyers, but many will prefer the more expensive Titanium or Titanium Sport models. The former adds sat nav, automatic lights and wipers and cruise control, while the latter includes all that plus leather trim, sporty styling and lower suspension.

In terms of engines, we’d recommend one of Ford's economical TDCi diesels. The 148bhp 2.0-litre has a good amount of pulling power and impressive claimed fuel economy of 56.5mpg. It's not much more expensive than the smaller 1.6-litre TDCi, which produces 113bhp, but performance is much better and it's no more expensive to run.

There's a more powerful 178bhp diesel, too, but this is only available in higher-spec Titanium Sport trim. Elsewhere, the optional automatic gearbox is smooth and effective.

For buyers looking for something with a bit more traction and stability year-round, there's an all-wheel-drive model available, which adds around £1,500 to the cost of an S-MAX. Ford has integrated this all-wheel-drive system into the car without sacrificing any boot or cabin space. It stays on permanently, meaning fuel economy suffers; most drivers are unlikely to benefit from it unless road conditions get seriously bad.

All new models have plenty of airbags the S-MAX secured a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating. Traction control and electronic stability control are standard on all models, plus there's a generous selection of optional safety features that can be specified.